By Manoj Kumar
Patna: It’s battle ground Bihar now. After Chief Minister Nitish Kumar launched an all out, no-holds-barred offensive against Narendra Modi, the 14-year-old JD(U)-BJP alliance in the state is under stress. The bitter ego tussle between Nitish and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi—both harbouring the prime ministerial ambition—is taking its toll on the alliance. The question now is who will dump whom first.
Talks of a possible break-up have gained ground after the Bihar chief minister set four “conditions” before the BJP to continue with the NDA. These are: the BJP must declare its prime ministerial candidate soon; the said candidate should have secular credentials and be acceptable to all; he should have absolute faith in democratic values; and he should be sympathetic to underdeveloped states like Bihar. The state BJP is not relishing the fact that Nitish has virtually put the central leadership on notice. The irony is, both parties share a cordial relationship in the state.
Observers read Nitish’s “bizarre” conditions as a deliberate move to get rid of the “communal” BJP. If he wants to be the prime ministerial choice or at least the king maker in 2014, he has to get more than 20 of the total 40 Lok Sabha seats he has now. If he touches 30, it will allow him more elbow room to dictate terms to the NDA. His calculation, the observers feel, revolves around the thought that if he dumps the BJP, he will automatically get the support of the Muslim vote bank. This will drive up the party’s seats tally.
The desperation in the JD(U) camp is underlined from the fact that moments after the chief minister set his conditions before its alliance partner via media, a group of senior party leaders—Vashishtha Narayan Singh, state JD(U) chief, Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Water Resources Minister, Bhim Singh, Rural Works Minister and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Shyam Rajak—held a formal press conference in Patna to strongly endorse Nitish’s view. Another party lawmaker and former minister Devesh Chandra Thakur even threatened to severe ties with the BJP in case the latter does not heed to their demand. The move is being seen as an open rebuff to the BJP for “stealthily” lending its weight behind Modi.
For quite some time, the JD(U) has been constantly opposing the “candidature” of Modi and expectedly, the very move has evoked immediate reactions from the BJP this time again but what’s new is that the reactions are bitter, stinging and caustic, indicating the saffron party too is no mood to relent.
Not only the local BJP leaders have reacted sharply to Nitish’s move but even the RSS too has jumped into the ring, strongly backing Modi as NDA’s prime ministerial candidate while at the same time slamming the Bihar chief minister. The seriousness of the situation is underscored from the fact a senior BJP leader and Animal Husbandry Minister in the Nitish Kumar government, Giriraj Singh, who dubbed Bihar chief minister as “pseudo-secular” earlier in the day, even skipped the meeting of the state cabinet held on Tuesday evening.
Apparently, both the partners, the BJP and the JD(U), feel the time is ripe to bid adieu to each other. While the latter is hopeful of gaining the full support of minority community, the BJP looks to retrieve the ground it lost in the aftermath of it joining hands with the JD(U) to see Lalu Prasad-led RJD out of power.
The BJP has apparently paid a heavy price for joining hands with the JD(U). The party which was once the main Opposition party in Bihar has fast lost ground under the NDA regime as it has virtually no “say” in the government. The party ministers, office-bearers, common workers and cadres have been routinely complaining how the bureaucrats have been taking no notice of any their requests. This has only distanced the BJP from the masses, much to party’s anxiousness.
Why the Bihar chief minister suddenly put forth “conditions” about NDA prime ministerial candidate before the BJP when the Lok Sabha elections are still about two years away? Was the lure for huge Muslim vote-bank the only reason behind it or was there something else?
According a story doing the round in the corridors of power, the Bihar chief minister has taken this step after a reported deal with the Congress. Under the deal, sources say, the Congress-led UPA government has “agreed” to grant some special financial package for Bihar while the JD(U) has assured to lend its support in forming the government at the Centre in case the UPA is short of majority.
What lends credence to belief is the “timing” of Kumar going to the media to put forward conditions before the BJP about NDA’s prime ministerial nominee. Check the sequence of events — on 14 June, the JD(U) led by the chief minister holds a meeting of party leaders at which it decides to speed up agitation for granting special category status to Bihar. On 15 June, the Congress party declares Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as UPA’s presidential candidate shortly after which both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mukherjee himself call up Nitish for support.
What transpires between PM & FM and Kumar is not known but moments after their telephonic conversations, the Bihar chief minister shots off a missive to the prime minister, asking him to form an “expert committee” to look into his long-pending demand of granting Bihar the special status category. It was after that Nitish raised his demand for making immediate declaration of the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate with the condition that he must be “secular” and also must be someone who has a feeling for backward states like Bihar.